I have been running ultras since 2014. Here are 5 ultra- training tips that I have learnt along the way:
Pick a race that motivates YOU…. not your friends or your ego. You want to be inspired to train when life gets busy. You also want a reason to keep pushing in the race when it gets tough. Knowing how much effort you put into the training is a huge factor; for example “not only did I put many hours into training for this, I made day to day sacrifices and I’m paying for the experience so giving up is not an option”.
The will race be long but the long runs don’t need to be. I learnt this from David Roche, US ultra running coach. He talks about the long days being a stress on the biomechanical and neuromuscular systems. As the runner fatigues, ground-contact time can increase and form can deteriorate leading to inefficiencies despite maintaining the output and ultimately this can create an imbalance in stress levels for the body. The odd longer run can be useful if the runner hasn’t raced many ultras. It can build confidence in ability, practise fuelling, routine in controlling the controllables (fuel, hydration, clothing, pack organisation and focus), learning to pace yourself and get you used to the highs and lows of running for hours!
Back-to-back long runs
I started training for ultras with two long runs on consecutive days because my first race was Marathon des Sables, which is a stage race. The purpose of them was to prepare my legs for the fatigue of running beyond a marathon and get used to pacing myself. However, they don’t allow for recovery adaptations to take place and for me this meant a few weeks later I would become ill or injured.
A far more optimal alternative is to incorporate some intensity within a long run. This can be done as progression runs, where you slowly increase the pace of the long run or perhaps run faster initially for a set period and then settle into an easy pace for the remainder. It creates musculoskeletal stress and optimal adaptation afterwards as you rest/ recover.
Speed is still essential
Speed training helps running economy (the relationship between oxygen consumption and running speed). Running fast on the flat correlates with running fast up hills and most ultra are off road and hilly. Also, maximal top end running economy has a mutual relationship with sub-maximal running economy so over time incorporating speed means improvement!
Working on your speed on both flats and uphills should benefit you in every direction.
Make it specific
There are many ways to train. One of the successful and popular is the 80% easy and 20% harder intensity training method. 80% of your training time should be done at an easy effort (progressing towards steady on those good days) which establishes laying down some good solid foundations. One of these easy runs is the longer run and ideally should be done with specificity to your chosen goal, for example, running on trails if it’s a trail race. A lot of races are hilly and yet we don’t all live in the mountains so I use my NoblePro treadmill to get those long ascents in. Depending on the gradients of the course profile I may run uphill or uphill hike to be as specific as possible building confidence that I can achieve my goals.
Enjoy setting those goals, training for them and achieving them!